By Rebecca Harrison
SOWETO, South Africa – Horns blare, fans sing and grind their hips and the aroma of grilled chicken feet wafts through the stadium. Soccer matches in South Africa are never dull.
But faced with TV image of majestic stadiums and water
-tight security from this year’s World Cup in Germany, South Africans are wondering whether they can pull off a similar feat when they become the first African country to host the event in 2010.
“Those stadium in Germany, they are so big and nice,” said Sibusiso Radebe, a 21-year-old soccer fan from Soweto, South African’s biggest township.
“We don’t want it to fail, we want it to be perfect, but we’re going to have to get moving quick.”
Africa’s richest country boasts good roads, fervent soccer fans, expansive scenery and the feel-good factor of a young democracy.
But its cities are snarled with traffic, crime levels are among the world’s worst and it is plagued by a deepening power crisis that has hit top tourist city Cape Town the hardest.
A visit to the FNB stadium in Soweto, the symbolic heart of South African soccer, illustrates the magnitude of the task at hand if South Africa is to host the World Cup in style.
In Frankfurt, trains, trams and buses all operating like clockwork whisk fans to and from the Waldstadion stadium.
In Soweto, transport is by park-and-ride, car or overcrowded minibus taxis. Parking is on adjacent scrubland, marshalled by locals hoping to make extra cash, and leaving the ground can take hours, with traffic jams long and collisions frequent.
When fans arrived for this year’s opening match in Munich, they had to show personalised tickets before clearing two rounds of security, while extra police patrolled the stadium.
At the FNB stadium in Soweto, which is only half finished after initial funds ran dry, hundreds of ticketless fans regularly circumvent ticket marshals simply by turning up early and hard alcohol and marijuana is readily available.
Peckish after a game, spectators in Berlin might retire to myriad street cafes and restaurants. Fans in Soweto choose between scores of makeshift stalls at the foot of a giant slag heap that sell barbequed chicken feet and dumplings.
Officials insist all that will change, and plans for a ‘Soccer City’ complex in Soweto are afoot. Danny Jordaan, who heads South Africa’s 2010 World Cup Organising Committee, said this week preparations — which include upgrading stadiums and building a new rail system — were ahead of schedule.
His communications manager, Tumi Makgabo, says South Africa can learn from Germany but would also strive to create an authentic local experience.
“It’s unavoidable that people will compare us with Germany,” said Makgabo. “But am I worried we won’t put on a great event? Of course not.”
Others are not so confident. Construction of a new stadium in Cape Town has stalled due to wrangling over exactly where it should go. And delays over a multi-billion rand high-speed train project meant to link Johannesburg to its airport have raised fears it may not be ready in time for the tournament.
“It appears Germany will host a World Cup that will run with the precision of a Swiss watch,” wrote columnist Matshelane Mamabola in the Cape Argus newspaper. “We are going to have to quickly learn to do things the right way.”
For many fans, the biggest challenge is on the pitch.
South Africa’s national soccer team failed to qualify for the 2006 tournament and crashed out of African Nations Cup this year without scoring a single goal.
“We will get things ready in time, but what about our team?” asked Menzi Nyawo, an unemployed Sowetan who was wiling away a morning near the FNB stadium. “They are not playing good football. We won’t last long.” — Reuter